Much is the same for executives onboarding into companies and charities. Much is different. You’ll do well in all cases to think in terms of getting a head start, managing the message, setting direction and building your team and then sustaining momentum and delivering results. On the other hand, the massive differences in stakeholders and what motivates your team members means your message and how you deliver that message need to be dramatically different.

Get a head start

It’s always better to get a head start before day one. Learning ahead of time and coming in with a personal onboarding plan gives you confidence. Getting your personal things in order and office set in advance makes life easier. Jump-starting relationships before day one is good for all involved.

The big difference is in which relationships you jump-start.


  • In for profit companies, the critical few relationships may include your boss or key board members, the most important internal partners, star performers on your team, and key customers and suppliers.
  • In not-for-profit charities, many of the same people matter. But it’s all about the people you serve and the people that care most about the people you serve. This could include donors and sponsors and your state’s Attorney General who is the legal representative of those you serve.


Manage the message

Some think this is different in companies and charities. They are wrong. The argument is that charities are mission-drive while for profit companies are, wait for it, profit-driven. The reason that’s wrong is that in the strongest companies profits flow from achieving mission.

Leadership is always about inspiring and enabling others to do their best together to realize a meaningful and rewarding shared purpose. The strongest messages are inspiring.

The strongest communicators think in terms of ethos, pathos, logos – or me, you, we. As one of my partners used to say, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”


  • Ethos/me – My story. Why this cause is personal for me.
  • Pathos/you – Your story. Why I appreciate you.
  • Logos/we – What we can do together to further the cause.


Sequentially, in that order.

We’ve all seen leaders get this very wrong. Some walk in and start talking about changes they are going to make in their new organization before they have earned the right to do that. They have to land their own personal stories first.

Some new leaders show up late for their first team meetings. Showing up late for any meeting says something else is more important than those waiting for you. That’s never the first impression you want to make on anyone.

Set direction and build the team

Happiness is good. Actually, it’s three goods: doing good for others, doing things you’re good at, and doing good for you. Everyone balances these three in their own individual way. You can generally expect people working in charities to have a bias to doing good for others. Expect people working in for-profits enterprises to be more balanced at best and focusing on things that are good for themselves at worst.

Sustain momentum and deliver results

At one level, this is the same for non-for-profits and for for-profits. But the results follow the mission. For profits may look at revenue, profits and value creation. Expect not-for-profits to look at impact. If you’re leading an organization like that focus your non-monetary incentives on those non-monetary measures.

In a for-profit company, show me how they are paid and I’ll tell you what they do. Thus financial incentives play a large role in guiding for-profit teams.

In a not-for-profit, show me how they feel and I’ll tell you where they focus. The strongest not-for-profit leaders care far more about their causes than about their bosses. Remember that as you co-create direction together and build the team.


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